Giovanni Belzoni, an early Egyptologist, wrote in 1821 what it was like to enter an Egyptian tomb:



I sought a resting place, found one and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of a dead Egyptian, it crushed it like a band box. Naturally I had recourse to my hands to sustain my weight, but they found no better support; so that I collapsed together among the broken mummies with such a crash of bones, rags and wooden cases as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting until it subsided again. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some place or another… Thus I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies piled up in various ways, some standing, some lying and some on their heads.


This buffoon was known as the "Great Belzoni" and is still considered a pioneer archaeologist in the study of ancient Egypt. Seriously, read his wikipedia page, I couldn't believe it either.

A Queen Uncovered

Queen Ankhnespepy II was a particularly powerful female leader during Egypt's Old Kingdom. She married not one but two kings during the Sixth Dynasty -- Pepy I and Merenre -- and she served as regent when her son Pepy II became king at just six years old. Recently, a Swiss-French archaeological mission at the Saqqara necropolis found the top portions of two obelisks, thankfully with inscriptions to help identify them, which would have marked the entrance to Queen Ankhnespepy II's funerary temple. They are the oldest Old Kingdom obelisk fragments found, and would have stood more than 16 feet tall.

The obeslisks weren't impressive just for their height. The two were made out of granite, a material usually reserved for kings. Any ancient Egyptian who saw them would instantly know the the power and stature of Queen Ankhnespepy II.

A new rock-cut chamber tomb has been found in central Greece, near the city of Orchomenos, which was the most important center in the region during the Mycenaean period. Uncovered in a cemetery filled with similar tombs, the new discovery is distinguished by its size: at 452 square feet (42 square meters) it is the 9th largest Mycenaean tomb every excavated. And more than 4,000 Mycenaean tombs have been excavated since 1850!

What is inside this large tomb is also surprising. Contemporary tombs usually house multiple burials, but this tomb has just one. And the artifacts are unusual, too. Tombs from this time period, heck the other Mycenaean tombs in that cemetery, always have painted pottery, yet this burial has very little. In contrast, it has a lot of jewelry, which was previously considered to be for female burials only. This new find is raising a lot of questions about its occupant, and the Mycenaean society where they lived and died.

From an archaeological point of view, Choirokoitia, Cyprus, is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Built around 6,000 BCE they were likely the first people to inhabit Cyprus, descendants of farmers who came from the Middle East in the 7,000s BCE, who brought agricultural skills to their new island home. Over time, they would have lost their cultural connections with the homeland and developed into a unique civilization. Evidence from the archaeological work at Choirokoitia shows that they had tools made from bone and flint, stone vessels and even simple figurines of deities.

Choirokoitia's residents also had ... interesting ... mortuary practices, archaeology has uncovered. They buried their dead in their houses. Family members who had passed on were placed under the floor of the home they had once lived in. If you needed evidence that Cyprus developed its own, unique prehistoric culture, there you go -- family under the floor is definitely different than the mainland culture that the earliest Cypriots came from!

Derbent, Russia's Oldest City

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.

Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.

The World Has Been Ending Since 2800 BCE

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to about 2800 BCE is said to bear the words "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents."

Archaeologists in the Swiss city of Zurich have found a 5,000-year-old door. The door was part of a settlement of "stilt houses" which have been frequently found near lakes, and started appearing about a thousand years after agriculture and animal husbandry were first introduced to the pre-Alpine region. The solidly constructed door was likely to keep out much of the cold wind blowing across Lake Zurich. Made of poplar wood, with well-preserved hinges, the rings in the boards date the door to about 3,063 B.C.E. That might make it the oldest door in Europe!

The First Fashionable Knockoff

About 5,000 years ago, the Chinese discovered how to make silk from the cocoon of silkworms. Silk quickly became highly prized -- and very expensive -- so to keep their monopoly, the Chinese kept the secret of how to make the valuable fabric. It was illegal to take silkworms outside of China. Anyone caught trying to export the secret of silk could face the death penalty. With such stringent measures, the Chinese managed to keep the secret for almost 3,000 years! Which opened the door for knock-offs.

The most common knock-off was cotton, beaten with sticks to soften it, then rubbed against a stone to give it a shine like silk. The resulting fabric was called "chintz" because it was "cheap." Even today, with silk much cheaper and more available, the word chintz means something less valuable and of less good quality.

An Old, Old City

Gwangju, a major city in the south of South Korea, was founded in 57 BCE. Which is pretty amazing to think about -- it is that old, and yet, we have a precisely dated record for when it was founded. Many ancient cities, including Pyongchang in Korea, Beijing in China, London in England, and Rome in Italy, are just ancient. Their actual age isn't known, they just have legends and myths. That makes Gwangju a pretty special city. It recently, or recently in comparison, celebrated its two thousandth birthday in 1957.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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